There’s nothing more New York than street food— whether you’re a local or a tourist, food trucks are a part of the city’s landscape. It might be a three-day old pretzel or the hippest Mexican-Vietnamese fusion ice cream, in New York everything is available during the lunch rush or a 3 am stumble home. But there’s more to street vending than just opening up a truck and filling it with something delicious. Street food has its own ecosphere, its own economy — and not everybody is happy about what goes on.
The first problem is the cap on the amount of street food vendor licenses — which has been stuck at 5,000 since the early 80s. Now that doesn’t mean that there only 5,000 vendors operating — it just means that there are many vendors who have been operating without a license. But vendors don’t want to be operating illegally and many are starting to demand a change, both in the license caps and the way that they are treated in the city. And now, with the current administration’s focus on immigration, the stakes are even higher. For many of these workers, getting a violation for food vending can be just a few steps away from deportation. In this video, Cheddar explains the hidden economy behind NYC street vendors — and just how vulnerable the workforce is under current rules and policies.
Food trucks are such an imbedded part of New York City’s streets, that it’s easy to take them for granted — we don’t think about how they got there, we just grab our coffees and our falafels and our gyros. It can be difficult to imagine the complex rules that underpin how they operate. But parking your cart nine or ten feet away from a curb shouldn’t be the difference between safety and deportation. To find out more about the Street Vendor Project, visit their website.